Last night was one of those marathons of vigilance where you look at the television waiting to see if you will become a weather history statistic. We finally got to bed around 2:00 am and I’m awake at 5:00, glad we werent blown away during the evening and thinking about all of the people who lost homes and loved ones.
As I sat watching the weather man show off the latest in radar technology, I thought about how much things have changed since the 40s and 50s when I was growing up in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
I really don’t remember weather forecasts then. I mean we had them, but they were a few minutes as part of the 6:00 news and no one paid a lot of attention to them because they weren’t very accurate.
Our home during most of my formative years had a full walkout basement that was wet. Dad put an old bed in it for the nights when there were thunderstorms and we slept on a musty mattress under clammy sheets. It was a big adventure to do so.
The best weather person that I knew during that time was Aunt Em. She was an honorary Aunt and I called her that because her grandnephew did. Except that, Aunt didn’t rhyme with either “ant” or “daunt”, but with “aint”.
Emma Stanley was the matriarch of a clan that lived across the road from us. Emma dressed in some version of mountain frontier dress, as did her three sisters. She wore a sun bonnet, a long sleeved full length print dress that went neck to toe, and I don’t think that I ever saw her without an apron. She dipped snuff, blushed like a school girl once when she hiked her dress to show us that she was bow legged and laughed easily. The youngest of her six kids was about 20 when I started grade school.
The family had lived on their land for several generations, and with a five acre garden and a hog pen they all got by. They had no running water. The well was a dug well with a dipper hanging from the side of the support that held the pulley and had the coldest, most refreshing water ever.
In this day before air conditioning the windows stayed open in everyone’s home for three seasons. On a still night you could hear everything including the voices of the men who worked at the railroad switching station a mile away across the river. The older folks seemed much more attuned to nature than the young, and Mrs. Stanley seemed more so than most, which brings me back to the weather.
The screen door would slam and Aunt Em would walk out into the center of the dirt road, look off to the southwest and declare, “Hit’s gonna come a storm.” And hit did. She tried to teach me what she knew; about the color of the sky, about the way the air felt, about the fact that the birds weren’t singing. But she was always the best.
I learned things as diverse as canning beans and the right way to sharpen a hoe from Aunt Em, but the best was how to be aware of, and believe your senses.